Category Archives: Health

Inch By Inch And Row By Row…

Today was my first day back at the farm for the season. Although it was my first day, others have been hard at work, installing a new greenhouse (greens through December! yay!), planting starter plants, getting in leeks and garlic and greens and more.

It was a beautiful, windy day, and I enjoyed the sunshine along with the fast-moving clouds. It’s an exciting time as we all look forward to those food boxes starting to fill up with wonderful things to eat.

I learned to use a stirrup hoe today — and another kind of hoe, one to run down the middle of the bed to pull a wider swath of weeds, one to run over the little leek plants to remove weeds on either side. When I finished weeding with my hoes, I walked over to take a look at our new greenhouse and then back to the fields to weed a few rows of garlic.

By the time I finished up, I was exhausted but oh so happy. Here are some highlights from this beautiful place where I work! If you are in the Algonquin/Dundee/Cary/Geneva/Crystal Lake/Woodstock area and would like to enjoy a weekly or bi-weekly box of beautiful, fresh, organic produce, check out Bob’s Fresh and Local and sign up for a share.

Compost pile where I get to take my veggie waste every week.
The leeks I hoed.
Garlic rows for hand weeding.

The old greenhouse…and our big beautiful new one.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Time To Start Spinning

Ghandi is well-known for the non-violent resistance techniques he taught and modeled during the struggle for Indian independence from a colonial power. What we perhaps don’t as often remember is that he spun the cloth for his own simple clothing and taught that it was a duty of every Indian to do the same.

Here is his rationale: “He chose the traditional loincloth as a rejection of Western culture and a symbolic identification with the poor of India. His personal choice became a powerful political gesture as he urged his more privileged followers to copy his example and discard—or even burn—their European-style clothing and return with pride to their ancient, precolonial culture.4 Gandhi claimed that spinning thread in the traditional manner also had material advantages, as it would create the basis for economic independence and the possibility of survival for India’s impoverished rural multitudes.5 This commitment to traditional cloth making was also part of a larger swadeshi movement, which aimed for the boycott of all British goods. As Gandhi explained to Charlie Chaplin in 1931, the return to spinning did not mean a rejection of all modern technology but of the exploitive and controlling economic and political system in which textile manufacture had become entangled. Gandhi said, “Machinery in the past has made us dependent on England, and the only way we can rid ourselves of the dependence is to boycott all goods made by machinery. This is why we have made it the patriotic duty of every Indian to spin his own cotton and weave his own cloth.”

It occurs to me that we have been colonized in the United States by corporate interests. For almost half a century, I have resisted this corporate take-over with my food choices. I believe my individual choices are important, but I think the time has come to connect with others to turn my individual choice into a political and economic statement.

I hope like-minded people can come up with one or more symbolic gestures as powerful as this one that Ghandi advocated to state our opposition to Trumpism and the values it promotes. If we can all unite behind this set of actions, it will have a strong economic impact, but even more importantly, it will make the case that our dismal failure to vote in sufficient numbers in the 2016 campaign didn’t.

It also occurs to me that the place we should look for this action or set of actions is in the food supply chain, which affects so many critical aspects of our lives on this planet: our moral sensibility, the environment, corporate/colonial rapaciousness, poverty, waste, health and more. I read a wonderful post this week envisioning a sustainable system, which I must add is NOT industrial agriculture — nor is it, according to this writer, universal veganism.

With such a vision in mind, perhaps there is some person or group out there capable of leading a resistance through mass action along the lines of Ghandi’s resistance. In the course of carrying out this action, an action in which every person could participate, we would not only deliver a strong economic and political message, but we might impact the environment sufficiently to counteract some of the damage this regime promises.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

The information I’ve been waiting for: Trump vs. Hillary on food

This video is an excellent presentation from John Robbins, best-selling author and co-founder of The Food Revolution Network. Lengthy but in-depth and well-worth viewing or reading. If you are moved to do something, please sign on to The Plate of the Union Campaign, info at the end of the piece:

Election 2016: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Food Policy

One thing I love about my CSA

Stir fry of onion, Bok choy, radishes.
Stir fry of onion, Bok choy, radishes.

I love having a box of fresh veggies, many things that I don’t ordinarily get, then trying things out with them. Sometimes combinations surprise me! – like this Stir Fry of chopped onion, Bok choy stems, salad radishes (that’s the Julienne veggie) and Bok choy greens, added last. Add a bit of salt, a few drops of soy sauce if you wish, and oh, my, was it good!

Here’s a note about how I stir fry: I cut all the veggies first. I heat some extra virgin olive oil in a wok and often throw in a little minced garlic first. This time, I don’t believe I did. Then I add the onions, sauteeing until soft. Then I add the remaining “hard” veggies, most “hard” first, sauteeing for a few moments after each — reserving any greens. When the veggies start to brown a bit, I add a little salt and soy sauce, stir and cover if needed to steam the veggies for a couple of minutes.  Uncover and add the greens, stir together and sauté briefly until the greens are wilted, adjust seasoning, and serve.

I also made Fatoush with what I had on hand instead of the usual, and it, too, was delicious with a creamy vegan dressing:

FATOUSH

Ingredients

  • Mixed greens, any you have on hand or like. Bok choy and Butterhead Lettuce featured heavily in this one.
  • Garlic scapes
  • Green onion
  • Red cabbage (I usually use it but don’t see it here – must have forgotten)
  • Tomatoes – organic grape tomatoes, quartered
  • Radishes – organic, Julienne
  • Cucumbers – organic, sliced and quartered or Julienne
  • Pita – Whole wheat Lebanese pita, cut into squares and toasted
  • Sumac  to sprinkle

Ingredients for Sauce

  • Mayonnaise, 1 cup (I use Hampton Creek Just Mayo – vegan)
  • Tahina, 1/4 cup
  • Garlic, 1/2 – 1 clove mashed (opt.)
  • Salt, 1-2 tsp. (start with 1 tsp. for dressing, add additional to salad after mixed)
  • Hot paprika, 1/4 tsp.
  • Lemon, freshly squeezed, 1/4-1/2 cup, to taste (start with 1/4 cup for dressing, add additional to salad after mixed)

Procedure

  1. Prepare salad ingredients: slice greens 1/8-1/4″, then cut across into 2-3″ pieces. Quarter grape tomatoes or petite dice plum tomatoes. Julienne cucumbers and radishes.
  2. Stack the pita pieces, cut through them lattice-work style so you end up with 1-2″ squares, roast in a 200 degree oven until crunchy, cool thoroughly and set aside or bag for later use. I like to use whole wheat Lebanese pita, available through a local Arab bakery. Lebanese pita is larger than pocket pita and thinner. Makes a great “crouton.” Stored properly, they keep for a long time once toasted and thoroughly dry.
  3. Make the dressing. For a vegan salad, use a vegan mayo. Your dressing should taste salty and lemony because by the time you add it to the salad with its moisture, it will lose some potency. I start a bit lighter on the seasoning, then add the remainder if needed when the salad is made up. You don’t need to use all the dressing at once — if you have leftover, just store in a covered jar.
  4. Put all salad ingredients into a bowl. Add toasted pita so you have 2 parts salad to 1 part pita. Add some dressing and a pinch or two of sumac (available in Middle Eastern stores and online), and mix gently but completely. Add more or less dressing to your liking.
  5. Sprinkle additional sumac over the salad and serve.

If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Two New “Salads” for 2016

A Beautiful and Delicious "Thanksgiving Medley"
A Beautiful and Delicious “Thanksgiving Medley”

I watched Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food on PBS earlier this week, and I thought that part of what we need to do is revise this style of thinking that calls veggie dishes either a “side” or a “salad.”

In the new style of eating recommended by people like Dr. Joel Fuhrman, in which 80% of your diet should be veggies, there is no longer such a thing as an entrée or a main part of the meal. I like to eat Middle Eastern style, with a collection of veggie concoctions, all equally significant on my plate, for nutrition, for eye appeal and for taste.

But old habits die-hard, and I’m not sure what to call these lovely dishes … so for the time being, they will have to remain, like the dishes on those extraordinary Middle Eastern Mezze tables, salatim or salads.

That picture at the top of this page…that’s a dish I made for Thanksgiving, simple and delicious.  It contains Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, cranberries and pecans, an unlikely combination.

I roasted the butternut squash and pecans separately, each with some cinnamon and maple syrup. I also roasted the Brussels sprouts and when they were almost finished, threw the cranberries onto the Brussels sprouts roasting tray for a brief moment. I folded all four ingredients together and added a little more syrup, cinnamon and a bit of salt to taste. It was the perfect Thanksgiving dish — or anytime.

Italian style potato salad.
Italian style potato salad.

This Italian Style Potato Salad and the Thanksgiving Medley above were both inspired by recipes I found on Pinterest. The Potato Salad is one I made as part of an Italian style vegan Shabbat dinner, the same one that featured that amazing vegan pesto and Tuscan Bean Soup.

I used three kinds of new potatoes in the salad: purple, yellow and red, cut them into quarters and cooked and cooled them separately. I also cooked some 2″ cut green beans and set them aside to cool along with the potatoes. When all were cool, I put the potatoes and green beans into a bowl, added some chopped Italian parsley, sliced red onion, pitted Calamata olives and quartered grape tomatoes. I folded all together with a little extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, salt and Italian seasonings (oregano, marjoram) and a bit of crushed red pepper.

Yes, this kind of food makes it easy to be vegan.

7 most important health practices from my “aging” vantage point

Dance like no one is watching . . . they're probably not. But it helps maintain hope, joy and gratitude.
Dance like no one is watching . . . they’re probably not. But it helps maintain hope, joy and gratitude.

As many of you know, I have been interested in health and particularly in good eating for most of my adult life, ever since my grandmother died of colon cancer in 1969. During those years, I’ve watched a lot of fads come and go.  I’ve avoided most of them, have tried a few and have stayed with those that made sense and produced results for me.

You probably also know I’m not a scientist (a Ph.D. in psychology who used me as a guinea pig to take tests she needed to administer as part of her degree program told me my personality and aptitude results were the most skewed she had ever seen, toward religion and the arts). I’m not a certified practitioner of any kind. I just read a lot and think a lot and try things on myself and try to stay in the realm of good sense with a dose of realism.

In my last post, I mentioned a 9-part series on cancer I’ve been watching. The first four segments were interesting and contained enough pieces of information I know are true that it persuaded me to continue listening.  The fifth segment went a little over the edge for me, comparing our position on vaccination in this country to Nazi experiments in the concentration camps. Huge red flag.

I’m still listening, picking out what’s useful and interesting and leaving the rest. It did inspire me to write this post, though. Following are the five things I believe are true about health at this point in my life at the grand old age of almost 67. Some things have shifted as recently as during the last few months, one during the last couple of weeks:

  • Reject black-and-white ideas about health. Reject “super foods” and “demon foods.” Suspect anything that comes from a mentality of conspiracy theories and paranoia. The enemy on all sides of any argument, at least in this country, is much more likely to be opportunism, arrogance and thoughtless good intentions than evil intent, and there are bound to be a lot of gray areas. Be open, listen, consider what’s useful — but it won’t do a whole lot of good for your health and will cloud your judgment to start feeling persecuted.
  • Fiber. Found it 45 years ago and have relied on it ever since. It’s a pillar of my health program — but there’s a disclaimer here. I’m not talking about fiber supplements, and that brings me to my next point.
  • Eat real food. IMHO, eating real food, whole foods with all their parts, hopefully bypassing commercial food processing completely, is more important than buying organic, avoiding GMOs (if you’re into that), or any other “health food” practice for that matter. This includes juices: they are denatured fruits. Instead drink water and eat whole fruits. This includes bread, for the most part. Make your own with whole grains and little or no sugar.
  • Focus on plant foods, and all the slogans work for me here: “Eat the Rainbow,” “Nutrient density” (an equation that represents lots of nutrients in relation to the number of calories), “G-BOMBS” (drfuhrman.com – an acronym for an anti-cancer diet, which includes enjoying daily Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushroom, Berries and Seeds).
  • Eliminate added sweeteners of all kinds from your diet along with refined carbohydrates. This means, in effect, eliminate all commercial food products.
  • Calories count, but not the way I learned many years ago. This is a change in my thinking during the last week since I started watching the series on cancer. The best way to create an anti-cancer, healthy internal environment is to keep calories in the recommended range for your height and weight, but those calories need to be the kind of things mentioned in #4 above. Keep protein and starchy carbohydrates at a minimum and enjoy good fats, even saturated fats, especially if they are the fats contained naturally in foods like avocado, nuts and seeds. My diet contains fats way above the percent commonly put out there, 25-30%. It’s more like 50%. I believe this is fine, perhaps even good, as long as I stay within the recommended range of calorie consumption.  I can do that by eating lots of high water content veggies.
  • Exercise is critical. This is another change in my thinking during the last few months. My focus has been on the metabolic aspects of good health, although I always exercised regularly. I liked individual sports and activities, and my own have included ice skating, gymnastics, swimming, running (not my favorite), yoga, biking, hiking and walking. As I got older, and obligations other than to myself started to fill my time, it was harder for me to maintain my exercise habits. I’ve tried to get started again since my work environment has changed, and my effort has highlighted dramatically how important exercise is. I got a pedometer, and most days I get in an hour of walking (split into segments) and hopefully 15-20 minutes of yoga-like stretching. During the winter I replace some walking with jumping on my mini-tramp. It’s not enough, and here’s why I say that: my work now is more sedentary than it has been for the last nine or ten years. Have you ever read the statistics on what happens to your body if you sit eight or more hours a day, even broken up with exercise? Google it. Scary.

Did you do that? Here’s my proof that those statistics don’t lie: I am experiencing it. After I eliminated added sugars and all processed foods from my diet about five years ago (I had eliminated most processed foods years ago), I lost 15 pounds and remained at a fixed weight, the weight that is right for me, year-in and year-out during those five years. My blood sugar level dropped to a happily normal 90, my cholesterol dropped and my HDL went up into the good range.

I haven’t changed anything in my diet in the last nine months since I left the food business (where I was on my feet and active all the time), but I’ve gained 3 pounds. I will venture a guess my next blood tests will show that my blood sugar levels are creeping up along with my cholesterol levels. And I have developed chronic pain in particular locations in my frame. You probably won’t realize how important exercise is when you’re working at a desk in your thirties and forties and fifties — but when you get into your sixties and older, you will experience the results of not doing enough.

I’ll end as I began, with a focus on worldview. Here’s one additional thing I have learned about good health: do whatever you need to do to keep yourself in a positive, hopeful frame of mind.

This may sound like blasphemy to some, but I’m not at all sure that we have a positive purpose and direction put in place for us on our behalf by a force outside ourselves.  I choose to believe that we have a positive purpose and direction, and there are times when it’s hard to maintain that belief, to maintain my sense of joy and gratitude. I look for and do things that support me in that. Call them placebos or a crutch for the masses if you’re a serious skeptic, but studies show that 18-88% of people are helped by placebos. Worth thinking about.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me onFaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

Politics: Hope and Money

IMG_2244

I don’t come from a tradition that views money as the source of all evil. Money is useful. Money feeds people, saves people, builds and creates. Money can accomplish amazing things. It can also subvert a political system, corrupt our food supply, limit our medical options and destroy entire populations.

Kind of like the mantra we hear from the NRA, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Yeah, and money doesn’t kill people, people kill people.

But too many bad things are happening with guns in the U.S. And too many bad things are happening when a very few people have all the money in the U.S.

Well, it’s a big world, and the problems in it are complex and multi-faceted, and no single solution is going to solve our problems — but we have to start somewhere. Better regulation of guns and money seems like a good place to start. Or two of many places to start trying to correct our problems.

So one of the things I notice is that money is power. It gives people a bigger voice. Maybe they’ll use that voice to do something I agree with, something wonderful, something that benefits the world. But maybe they’ll use that voice to do something I don’t like at all or that is destructive. And if that money gives someone a bigger voice than me, or a bigger voice even than a majority of people, that’s not right. That’s not what democracy is about. One person, one vote.

Today I saw a couple of things on Facebook that started me thinking about how this money theme winds its way through my brain right now, impacting my food choices, lifestyle choices and politics.

1) The first is that picture at the top of this page. A friend who “liked” it commented she wondered why it’s so hard to find this place in life. I’m thinking it has something to do with the complications caused when money is the foundation of our existence in this culture — and by that, I’m not talking about having lots of money. I’m talking about having it, not having it or having some of it. It doesn’t matter — it’s not the money itself. It’s the fact that money is the basis of our values, it’s the engine that drives the machine in this country. It shapes our decisions. It can put us in situations we then have to spend all our time supporting. It can keep us up at night. It can distort how we see things. It can militate against simplicity, making our lives very complicated.

2) The second was a conversation surrounding a post on GMOs and Monsanto. On the theme of distortions, a professor of mine once said with regard to the Bible, the narrative is shaped by those who “won,” historically speaking. So applying that principle to the current state of our food supply mechanisms, I wonder if the narrative hasn’t been shaped by those who “win” in this culture, namely those who have money? Good research is expensive, and someone with dollars has to support it.

A blogger I like raised questions about some comments I made related to GMOs. And the comments are well-taken. But what occurs to me is that there is so much hype out there on all sides of any issue, so much research on all sides of any issue — that an ordinary person, someone who’s not a scholar in these areas and has other things that consume their time, could spend the rest of their life reading through it and still not find “the truth.” And back to money: there’s the question of who’s funding the research and making it public? For the most part, probably “mainstream” food operations who are making lots of money. That doesn’t make it bad, just one-sided.

The internet has changed the picture to an extent by democratizing our voices, but opinions or guesses or concerns aren’t the same as solid research, which brings a non-mainstream opinion back to the reality: money governs, to a large extent, the ability to do the research and disseminate it.

So the medical profession told us for years that butter and eggs will kill us and didn’t say a word about added sugars in foods and lack of fiber. Different information was out there — just not enough funded studies and not disseminated widely enough. And a strong sugar lobby that suppressed information. Now we have those with money going after a small company that is successfully selling an excellent vegan mayonnaise.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, not at all. But I do think money chooses what research will be done, what information will be put out there, spreads it far and wide, in short, has the capability to influence our view of things. I don’t have time to research everything, especially things not in my area of study, so what I see is what crosses my line of vision. What crosses my line of vision as far as good, solid research is more likely to be well-funded and widely marketed research. Or quick and easy posts to the internet that may not yet have research backing them.

3) Medicine brings me to the third thing, a video series I’m watching. I was born in 1948. I’m old enough to be the beneficiary of many years of unchallenged bias in favor of medicine rather than “healing.” I recognize in myself hesitation when someone starts to talk about the latter for prevention and treatment instead of conventional medicine. I’ve watched how difficult it has been to achieve recognition and legitimization for basic concepts like “integrative medicine,” the damage we have caused to ourselves with our food choices, the link between certain diseases and environmental factors including our food choices. It’s difficult to achieve recognition and legitimization for the role of meditation and faith in health. For the potential that naturopaths, eastern modalities, folk remedies, faith-healers, shamans, rituals and ceremonies, micro-nutrients and more may have something to offer in terms of healing. What are we so afraid of?

Why do we suppress ideas and approaches that don’t fit with one point of view? And invest quite a bit of money accomplishing that suppression, by the way. Why not spend the same money on doing and disseminating good research?

And that brings me to the third item I want to share on this topic. I came across a 9-part video series on cancer that drew my attention. I approached it with my usual ambivalence, favorably inclined toward health and healing but indoctrinated to view only conventional medicine as a “real” solution to this terrible disease. Plus I was looking for the sales pitch.

I haven’t yet come to the sales pitch for this series, and I have been fascinated with some information in it about how mainstream medicine came to be while alternative approaches were suppressed and made illegitimate. I can’t vouch for all the information in this series — I haven’t even viewed the whole series yet — but it accords with my personal belief that our bodies seek health and are capable of amazing healing. We just need to get out of their way. In that process, fear is our biggest enemy. There are also enough points that I know are true that it stimulates my interest in the rest.

Most importantly, the video series brings me hope. I’ve lost four people I care about to pancreatic cancer in the last three or four years. The common element was that all were told, there was nothing else to be done. No hope.

I believe there is hope, for pancreatic and other cancers. This video series gives a specific shape to my belief. That shape may change over time, as conventional medicine has, but I’m open to considering these possibilities and would like to see us putting money into learning more about them.

What if these things work in the ways people claim? Why shouldn’t they be covered by insurance, especially when conventional drugs on which people depend can get 5000-fold increases in price overnight? From the death rate for those affected by pancreatic cancer when treated by conventional medicine, which is covered by insurance, I’d say we don’t have much to lose by insuring alternatives. And the alternatives cost so much less because they rely on our natural ability to heal.

Why shouldn’t these possibilities be included in any discussion of options before we say, no hope?

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me onFaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

Vegetating with Leslie: Spring into Health

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Woohoo! Just agreed to teach another class at McHenry County College in Spring 2016. This one will be through the Personal Development Program and includes demonstrations in their state-of-the-art kitchen.

The demo part should be interesting. As I mentioned to the program director, I’m hardly one to demonstrate knife skills, and that’s what’s involved in a lot of the cooking I do. Well, as I always say, if I can make these foods, anyone can!

VEGETATING WITH LESLIE: SPRING INTO HEALTH
*Asterisked items are what I will demonstrate.

Session I: Spring into Health. Prepare your kitchen to support your best health. We’ll take a close look at the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) of processed foods, sugars, low fiber, low nutrient density and how it undermines health. We’ll talk about what to remove from your kitchen, what to put in your kitchen and how to organize your kitchen.

Demo and share: Nutrient Dense Sandwich on *Homemade Spelt Bread

Session II: Eating the Rainbow: Nutrient Density. What is nutrient density, what can it do for you, and how can you construct a diet that is nutrient dense?

Demo and share: *Fatoush (Middle Eastern Salad), *Green Smoothies

Session III: Rethinking Breakfast: Out of the Box. We’ll take a look at breakfast alternatives from other parts of the world, in particular the Middle East and rethink breakfast possibilities for the most important meal of the day.

Demo and share: Middle Eastern Breakfast (with *Israeli Salad and *Ful) and my current *Breakfast Bowl

Session IV: Make Mine Middle Eastern! Why is it important to choose a cuisine, at least to start? How can you use the basics of Middle Eastern cuisine to build a nutrient dense diet you can enjoy without feeling deprived? We’ll use the Mezze (appetizer) table as the basis of a great, nutrient dense diet and compare it to the S.A.D. which began these sessions.

Demo and share: *Hummus, *Muhammara, *Tabouleh, Israeli Salad, *Red Pepper Salad, *Olives, Pickles. How to use items like this for Midday Meals, Snacks, Dinner, Appetizers.

I hope you can join us!

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Finding a Way Back: Giving Voice to the Quiet Story of Depression & Suicide

Run for Lisa King

Philip King's route on his Run for Lisa King.
Philip King’s route on his Run for Lisa King.

A friend asked me to “Like” a FaceBook page recently (Run for Lisa King), and when I arrived at the page, I found a story that I wanted to tell, a story about depression and suicide, a quiet story that affects so many so deeply and in such unquiet ways.

It is part of my story and the story of my family, and it is part of the story behind the page I liked and hope you will like. I admire Philip’s effort and am inspired by it. Please support his campaign. I will follow his story in this post with my own.

runforlisaking03

Philip King’s Story

Run for Lisa King
A personal campaign sponsored by Philip King
March 28, 2016 — October 5, 2016

On January 8th, 2014 I lost my mother, Lisa King, to suicide. A few months later I lost a great friend In a similar situation. Dealing with those losses has been difficult, and as usual, I turned to running to help get through the hard times.

A couple months ago, I decided that I wanted to find a way where running all those miles could help somebody other than myself.

Next year I plan to run across the country on the northern portion of the American Discovery Trail from Delaware to California to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention. The trail covers 4,803 miles, and my goal is to average about 180 miles a week. I will leave on March 28th, 2016 and hope to finish by October 5th.

Help us complete this journey by visiting my donor page. You can read more about us on FaceBook, www.facebook.com/runforlisaking.

Philip King running with his brother, Jeff King.
Philip King running with his brother, Jeff King.

My Story

Many years after the life experience I will share below, I thought that part of the difficulty was that I had no idea what was happening with me or what I could do about it and thought the way I felt might just be the way it would be for the rest of my life.

I wondered if I might have found help more quickly if depression and suicide hadn’t been such a “quiet” story. Yet 45 years later, it remains quiet. The media and public consciousness are filled with news about the things that can kill us and undermine our health. Not so much about depression and suicide.

I believe it’s important for people to share their stories. Despite my belief, I have shared my story with very few and would like to do that now.

In 1967, as a freshman in college, I struggled with my first depression, an event that occurred each year for the next five years until the birth of my first son in 1972. These experiences usually lasted at least four or five terrifying months, beginning just after Christmas and extending until summer. As anyone knows who has experienced an episode of severe depression, it can be very difficult to explain to others who haven’t “been there.”

I’m not short of possibilities for what the roots of these depressions may have been: S.A.D., hormones, genetic predisposition, extreme family instability, a beloved grandmother to whom I always looked for refuge and anchoring and who was in a long battle with cancer that she lost in 1969, the instability of changing relationships that are usually a normal part of the dating years, leaving home for a college far away (not the right thing for everyone), lack of a community network, lack of a faith community or community of any sort with common values and a sense of mission, poor diet, lack of appropriate and regular exercise, depressing music, pot, alcohol . . . and it was the sixties. It seemed as though the world was disintegrating.

The decisive moment of my depression came in 1970. I was out in a field on a night I had been in a car accident. I’m pretty sure the sky was filled with stars, but that’s not how I experienced it. I was overwhelmed with a physical sense of the blackness and emptiness of the universe and felt totally alone in it, although I wasn’t alone, even at that moment. I was absolutely certain I was going to die if I moved or left that place, although nothing in my physical condition suggested that was a possibility. That’s why I say it’s difficult to communicate to another person what you’re experiencing because it’s so out of synch with their reality.

That night I understood something. I understood that the ultimate question and answer are very simple. The ultimate question is “Do you choose life?” And the answer is either “yes,” or “no.” They got that many, many centuries ago: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live . . . “ (Deut. 30:19)

I realized that I was on a self-destructive course, sliding toward suicide, and I decided that I needed to make my decision: I had to decide if my answer was yes or no, and if no, end it — and if yes, change course.

Perhaps it didn’t need to be that stark, an either-or equation. Perhaps a professional advising me would have said it’s good to recognize the question but postpone action because perceptions change. The professional wasn’t there, and that’s not what I felt to be true.

At that moment in my universe, I saw nothing that required either choice from me, that supported me or provided me with a reason that I could perceive or hold onto, to choose life. I’m not sure why I did. Perhaps I had a faith that I wasn’t able to recognize at that moment. Perhaps it was just an innate desire to live, whether or not I could see any reason for it. But the choice I made that evening was yes, and for the next three years, I struggled to find the kind of equilibrium that would allow me to live a constructive life, to overcome the yearly terror that this time, I might not make it.

Whatever the reason for my choice, I was fortunate. Others come to that moment and are not so fortunate. When you are unable, for whatever reason, to grasp and hold onto a reason for a “yes” decision, it is a profoundly dangerous moment. Not everyone makes it past that moment.

I admit, many of my decisions for years were driven by the fear of returning to that place. Eventually I did have help and support, but many of the most important steps I took away from depression and suicidal urges were steps I discovered and took on my own. That is the story I want to share here, what I learned on my own about finding emotional stability and living a constructive life. I think you will see why I find Philip King’s story so meaningful.

What I learned about depression

What I learned . . . is just what I learned, no more and no less. It’s how I came to understand the experience with depression I had so many years ago. What I want to say may correlate to some medical information only accidentally, and it’s not meant to be a guide for anyone else. In sharing experiences with each other, though, we may find commonality, and there may be some part of what I know for myself that is useful to others.

A couple of years ago, another family member experienced a depressive episode, ultimately diagnosed as a “panic attack.” The knowledge of what it feels like to be in that space never leaves you. That doesn’t mean, though, that what worked for you will work for another. Each person’s path is their own, and as painful and even frightening as it may be to see a loved one suffering, all you can do is be there. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to offer suggestions from your own experience that are useful, but in the moment of choice, the decision is theirs. If their answer is “yes,” the path back that they find is also uniquely theirs.

I didn’t even realize I was doing most of these things during the years they counted, now 45 years ago. It was later reflection that helped me understand how I had somehow managed to help myself.

12 things I did to banish depression

Today you would never imagine that I am the person I just described of forty years ago. I am happy, even joyful in my life. It is possible to get there, I can promise that.

  1. Get past that moment – somehow. If you don’t make it past that moment or moments, the rest of what follows isn’t worth much. It is possible to get to a different place, a place where you can experience joy and meaning. Take the word of others when you can’t provide it for yourself.
  2. Love isn’t always enough – have a backup. I knew my parents and others loved me. Everyone has their own life, though, and for me, there was a particular set of conditions that demanded the attention of people I loved and left me feeling as though the enormous emotions that were overwhelming me just didn’t matter. Even if people who love you do hear you and are able to let you know you matter, no other person can be present at every moment of your life, moments that may include that awesome moment of decision. I needed backup support but wasn’t sure what or where to get it.
  3. Do some simple homework on foods that contribute to mental and spiritual health, and be careful about what you eat and drink. We learn more about nutrition every day. Eating the right foods and drinking the right beverages can make a difference. I didn’t have that information in those early years. At a later time when I wanted to get off antidepressants that I took for two years, I pumped up my nutritional awareness and exercised caution and was able to discontinue the meds with no difficulty.
  4. Exercise every day, preferably outdoors. Now we know that exercise increases the production of serotonin, associated with well-being. Then I just knew I felt better when I took a walk or went running or biking along the lake.
  5. When you’re outdoors each day, no matter for how short a time, look up. I heard Deepak Chopra say this once. It works. It works especially well for me to lie on my back in the grass and watch clouds drift by overhead.
  6. Be engaged in your own survival and the natural cycle of death and rebirth. Most of us have little involvement in our own survival and are far away from natural processes. We don’t grow or prepare our own food or drinks, and most of us are so disconnected from their sources that kids can’t recognize common raw food items and know where they come from. We are sheltered and alienated from the process of life and death, including our own. I don’t mean to suggest that you go on a wild boar hunt. I found it meaningful to have an organic garden or forage for food, dig in the dirt, have a compost heap, and to make my own yogurt and cheese and bread and pickles. Cooking real food with the products of the earth satisfies me deeply, and probably one of the reasons I love it so much is that it is a way I can be involved in my own and my family’s survival.
  7. Use structure as a tool. It can substitute temporarily for meaning and helps build it. I stumbled on the value of structure. The year I was in the accident and found myself in that field, I had dropped out of school. I was always a top-level student, but in my sophomore year of college, I was simply unable to concentrate, and my grades started dropping precipitously. Although I may have done the right thing for my grades and for financial practicality, I did exactly the wrong thing for my emotional stability in dropping out of school and leaving town. I had no structure in my life. When I returned to town, I joined the YMCA and started swimming a couple of miles early each morning. The exercise provided benefit, but more than the exercise, going out to the pool structured my day and provided more benefit. As I came to understand that, I added more structure to my day. Later, in the course of my academic career, as I studied religious literature, I saw that the structure of a text contributed as much as the actual content to meaning. Initially I didn’t perceive meaning, but the elements of structure in my life helped calm my soul. Eventually those same structures allowed me to see and experience meaning again.
  8. Be part of a meaningful community, even several communities: family, work, faith, groups whose values you share. Community. Others have said it. It’s not new information. I had never gotten very involved in school or community activities. Since we moved a lot when I was growing up, I never integrated deeply into any community and hadn’t developed the skills to maneuver through communities, to enter them and exit them. Although I was involved in sports, it was an individual endeavor for me. I wasn’t part of a team and didn’t make friends through that avenue. I simply didn’t have a community network that could sustain me or give me a sense of balance and belonging when family failed.
  9. Maintain a spiritual practice. Choose a practice that points in a positive direction. Mine is Judaism. I like it because it provides a structured guide to living, a guide based on the deeply hopeful and optimistic premise that we can make the world better. In practicing according to that guide, I came to see things differently. Sitting around waiting for it to happen just didn’t work for me.
  10. Reach out to help others in some way. “Tzedakah saves from death.” (Prov. 10:2 and quoted in the Talmud). Tzedakah means righteousness, giving to others. I have always understood this verse to mean that when we reach out to help others, when we connect with them in their need, we affirm life and our common humanity. We participate in something greater than ourselves. I don’t know what the psychological or body chemistry explanation might be for why this works to elevate mood and generate a sense of well-being, but it worked for me. I wonder if this is why biblical law requires each person, no matter how poor, to contribute. I believe it expresses an intuitive understanding that reaching out to others is life-saving for all of us, no matter how much or how little we have.
  11. Find meaningful work. As I got involved in work that felt meaningful to me, my equilibrium improved. Now, at an age when many of my friends are beginning to retire, I can’t imagine not working. I don’t need to make more money than what’s required to pay basic bills, and if I didn’t need to pay basic bills, the money wouldn’t be the relevant part of work. It’s just a matter of using what I have to offer in constructive, world-building ways, even if it’s a drop of water in a vast ocean. It all counts. Like giving, work is life-saving for all of us, no matter how much or how little we are able to do.
  12. Set goals you can work toward. It’s probably also a good idea to set goals you can hope to achieve, and when you do achieve them, set more goals. The point is to keep a forward-looking worldview and feel that you are a necessary part of tomorrow. You are.

Why I like Philip King’s Run for Lisa King

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As you read what helped me work my way out of depression, I think you can understand why I admire Phil King’s effort so much.

Phil’s lengthy run is a goal he set for himself, and it has a positive, world-building purpose that is greater than himself. He created a structure for his life and his project that will carry him through the better part of a year. In first creating, then living with that structure, he will have an opportunity to rebuild his own worldview after devastating loss. His run will work in some ways like a spiritual practice.

I believe Phil has found a creative, meaningful, life-affirming way to respond to the tragedy of suicide and to share his story with many others, who may also find meaning in the path he has found.

I hope you will support Phil King’s Run for Lisa King project and help him give a face and a voice to the quiet devastation of depression and suicide.

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