My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — It gives a lovely light!
When we’re young, it seems romantic to burn the candle at both ends – forego sleep, have a few drinks and maybe a cigarette, party hearty and eat what we like, while trying to have it all. But it’s all an illusion, folks. Nobody has it all – at least not forever.
When I was young, I almost never got sick. In fact, I was sick so infrequently that I can count illnesses that kept me down for more than a day on one hand. I had chickenpox and had to stay home because I was contagious. I got pneumonia in high school because I swam on a team in the winter and went outdoors with wet hair (repeatedly). I got strep during finals week in December of my freshman year in college, probably because I was run down from all-night cramming sessions. Aside from occasional migraines and sniffles, that was pretty much it…. I basically thought I would always recover easily from any illness. I didn’t exercise much and I ate pretty much what I liked, and my metabolism and immune system just took care of me.
I took my well-being pretty much for granted. That is, until stressful work, three children, and neglecting sleep and nutrition began to take their toll. At one point, I’d lost so much weight that my mother-in-law was convinced I had leukemia, and my stepmother kept plying me with vitamin B12 in an attempt to bring a healthy glow back to my cheeks.
My own mom advocated eating a healthy breakfast (never my favorite meal, or hers) and getting more sleep. I began putting the pounds back on, just a few a year, until I was much heavier than I should have been.
And here’s the real problem with all that… I went from not feeding my bones, heart, and other organs enough of what they needed, to overloading every system in my body with fat, sugars, and stressful weight. My hips, knees, and back complained. My stomach rebelled. My blood pressure climbed. And my amazing immune system failed me. I would almost certainly have developed cancer anyway, but I’ll bet chemo and radiation therapy wouldn’t have hit me quite as hard if I’d been in better shape.
The thing is, I kept thinking I’d only gained a few (more) pounds, and I’d be able to peel them right off if I started swimming again, or ate a little better. I actually lost ten pounds or so a few times – but I always gained them back. I kept thinking I had time to take care of myself later, but my body had slowed down, and it took a really comprehensive effort and change in patterns of behavior to start turning things around.
I’ve lost about forty pounds since last Spring (even with the holidays), and I feel much better. My joints hurt less, I sleep better, and I’m hoping to improve even further. I had to do something, because I was headed for a tipping point – serious heart disease, diabetes, or some other illness I really couldn’t come back from.
I watched my Dad wait too long to make dietary changes he frankly didn’t want to make – he died of renal failure as a complication of completely preventable diabetes. My mother-in-law continued smoking long after she was aware of the dangers, and died slowly of cancer. My mom propped herself up on ridiculously high heels every day at work because she carried some extra weight and she thought they made her look thinner. She lived with painful arthritis of the spine until she died. She also had both hips replaced. She would likely have done better to actually get a little thinner. I still can remember her legs aching at the end of each day as she peeled off those silly shoes.
All of these people could have enjoyed their vices briefly, and would have lived fuller, in most cases longer, lives had they just taken better care of themselves and moderated those behaviors years earlier. But it was that one more pizza, one more cigarette… until they hit those tipping points where their bodies couldn’t win the battles any more. Now I’m watching people in my own generation starting to lose those fights, and I’m working to keep from being one of them.
Yes, when we’re young, it seems romantic to burn the candle at both ends – to forego sleep, have a few drinks and maybe a cigarette, party hearty and eat what we like, while trying to have it all. But if we want to enjoy our “Golden Years” we have to preserve more than money – we have to preserve ourselves.
I think we’re worth the effort, don’t you?
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