My Two-Year Old Has Surgery

7 Oct

Today my two-year old, Dodge, has surgery for an inguinal hernia.  I know it is a common surgery, but I hate the idea this little guy being under anesthesia and feeling pain.  He’s my little snuggler.  Please keep him in your thoughts today…he’s tough as nails and has sharp elbows!


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So Long Gluten: A Call For Recipes & Recommendations

24 Sep

After countless labs, blood tests, diet restrictions, and research over the past month I have learned a great deal about my biochemistry, my body’s ability to process nutrients, and my food sensitivities.  Today’s post is simply the tip of the iceberg as I can’t wait to share my entire experience, which will cover over a year’s worth of personal exploration and research in bettering my life through nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle adjustments.  In the meantime, I’d like to share one snippet of the journey and ask for your participation:

CxL-R2OAThis morning I found out that I need to become gluten-free (among other life changes).  I will get into the details as to why when I recap this whole experience…but for now I need your help, my wonderful constant readers, by submitting your recipes, snacks, and beverages that are gluten-free.  I am asking for your help to better myself.  I’m hungry, for food and knowledge.

Below is a simple form to fill out and submit your recipes, snacks I can bring to the office, drinks I can have at the bar, etc.  Know a place that has gluten-free options when I eat out in Wichita?  Tell me.  Know ways to avoid gluten when on the road?  Tell me.  National chains that have gluten-free options?  I’d love to know.  As you submit recipes, recommendations, and ideas please keep in mind that I need to avoid these following foods as well:

  • White Wheat Flour (obviously)
  • Whole Wheat
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Rice (all forms)
  • Hops & Yeast
  • Soybeans
  • Cantaloupe
  • White Potato (can have in small doses)

So…tell me your recipes, recommendations, and ideas.  I’ll try them out and then publish some of them here with your name credited.  Your help and participation in this is greatly appreciated…you are helping save my life.  So…thank you.


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Using Visualization To Overcome Anxiety

9 Sep

anxiety-cycleOver three years ago I suffered from a panic attack that I was sure would cripple me for life.  I couldn’t leave the bed for days, couldn’t eat, was sure I was losing my mind, and begged for an answer as to why this was happening to me.  Three years later, I am not the same person I was hiding under the covers scared of everything…including life itself.  I go to work at a high-pressure job where I’m good at what I do and enjoy the challenges it presents me.  I drive to work, I fly on planes, I try new things, and am adventurous and able to go with the flow.  I do all the things I used to do…I just do them with a heightened sense of self-awareness now.  Things were going pretty well until last week when out of the blue…I had a panic attack.  Worst one since three years ago.  Terrible…and it rattled me quite a bit…but I survived.

Much like three years ago I began asking myself what may have caused it.  The recent change in diet?  Are my magnesium levels off?  Did the pharmacist give me the wrong prescription?  Do I have a brain tumor?

Whoa!  Whoa!!!!  A brain tumor?  That’s some rookie stuff right there.  No, I am not going back to the dark ages of my anxiety when I thought I was dying and I was alone.  This is common.  I need to find some positive things I learned from CBT therapy and get my mind right:

  • This panic attack is not as bad as my first one, I’ll never have one that bad again because I know what is happening now.
  • I survived my last one – I’ll survive this one.  I have what it takes to persevere and feel better.  I’m not dying.
  • I can be my own safety net, I do not need to retreat to my wife or bedroom to get through this – I must move forward.
  • Breathe.  Just breathe.  Don’t think about everything I need to do, just what I need to do right now.
  • Discomfort, not disaster.  Discomfort, not disaster.  Discomfort, not disaster.  This sucks, but I’ll survive.

I drove to my office, breathed, and got to work.  I set a goal of making it till lunch and then seeing how I was doing.  I made it to lunch and noted I was anxious about 80% of the time and was fending off my fight or flight instincts through breathing and focusing on work.  I decided to wait till 3 PM and see how I felt.  By 3 PM I was anxious about 60% of the time and aware that the end of the work day was near.  I decided to stay till 6 PM and then go home no matter what.  At 6 PM I was only anxious about 20% of the time and I stayed late to get more work done.  In the end I had a very productive work day, drove home just fine, and passed out I was so mentally exhausted.  The next day I was fine…almost like the attack never happened.  I felt pretty good about myself.

Over Labor Day weekend I had a plethora of underlying anxiety that grew the later the day got.  I masked it from my friends and family by saying my stomach was a little upset and dealt with it by breathing and focusing on how much fun was taking place.  I didn’t want to miss out because of my anxiety so I just took the spinning-head feeling as part of the ride and went with the flow.  Discomfort, not disaster.  I had one small anxiety attack on Saturday night driving back to the hotel and I simply pulled the car over, told my wife and brother-in-law I didn’t feel well, and my wife happily drove us the rest of the way to the hotel.  Everything seemed well in hand driving home Monday…a 7 hour ride with 2 kids in the backseat.  I got a wicked migraine that I chalked up to them asking questions non-stop and again, passed out once we got home.

Tuesday was rough.

Tuesday my anxiety was right back where I started the week before and my brain immediately went back to trying to solve it.  I landed on magnesium…had to be.  Had to be the cause.  Not the amount of work baring down on me at the office, the pressure I was under, the fundraising project I had taken on, finances, new diet, etc.  No…couldn’t be any of that.  Probably taking too much magnesium.  This is laughable, magnesium is a calming nutrient with no reaction to any of my medications yet I was convinced it was the culprit.  Because…there has to be a culprit.  Right?


The culprit is not some thing you can cut out and suddenly you are okay again.  Anxiety is my train of thought.  I suffered through all Tuesday and Wednesday morning till I remembered that and began working on breaking my train of thought.  You know when you get a song lyric stuck in your head and you can’t stop hearing it over, and over, and over again?  That’s anxiety.  You get stuck in an infinite loop of being overwhelmed and then it cycles downward as you wonder if it will ever stop.  I could take a pill, but that just attacks the symptoms.  I attack the root.  Here is what I did…and it worked:

tightrope with a safety netI pictured myself on a tightrope platform of an old-fashioned circus.  I chose this visual because I wanted something aesthetically straight, juxtaposing my current cyclical thought process.  In front of me was the tightrope, deathly high off the ground, and on the other side; another platform.  On that other platform was nothing, no goal, no object, nothing…just the satisfaction of knowing I’d made it.  However, there was this tightrope to deal with.  Next I reminded myself that I was not in a life or death situation, so I imagined a large trampoline net below me to catch me if I fell…and I knew I’d fall, and that was okay.  From the net there was a ladder back up again.  The net and ladder represented the part of my brain that reminds me I can be my own safety net.  I can be my own support team.  I can do what I put my mind to.  However, first steps are scary and it is good to have friends, so that is what I imagined next.  I pictured a catwalk that ran on either side of my tightrope made of hardened steel with sturdy railings and support beams.  On the catwalk I imagined all my friends and family, smiling at me calmly with encouragement.  No one was chanting, everyone was just whispering good tidings…like when you walk down the aisle at your own wedding…everyone knows it’s all about you but they want you to know they are there and love you.  It was a great visual.

I stepped out onto the tightrope.  It was shaky.  My balance was terrible.  Hundreds of hands reached out for me for me to grab if I needed them.  Friends and family.  I steadied myself.  The hands relaxed like a mother watching her baby take his first steps.  My mom was there.  So was my wife.  I could even see the guys I work with who I swear argue with me just to argue with me.  Everyone wanted to see me accomplish my goal.  The rope ceased wobbling and I stood upright.

I walked out the front door of my house despite my anxiety and got into my car, backed out the driveway, waved high to the neighbors, and drove down the street.

One foot in front of the other I took steps forward along the tightrope.  I focused on each step and did whatever it took to keep my balance.

I drove a new route to work and admired the flowers and new things I encountered.

The catwalk seemed farther away.  The net below seemed larger.  The height seemed less.  I seemed to be walking faster.

I got to work and excitedly engulfed myself in a project that took my mind off things.

I paused to catch my breath.  Tightrope walking is hard to do.  Kate, my wife, gave me her hand from the catwalk and asked if I was okay.  I squeezed her hand and nodded yes, I had my own net and was about half way to the other platform.

Kate stopped by my office and brought me lunch.  We hugged.  It felt great to be embraced and smell her hair, being hugged by Kate can be described in one word:  “Home.”

I moved faster along the tightrope when I saw my friend Chris up ahead on the catwalk drinking a beer asking if I’d like to join him.  The catwalk was suddenly empty…a few strangers milled about.  I only knew Chris but his smiling face was encouraging to see.

I got a text from my buddy Chris asking if I wanted to grab drinks after work.  I told him the truth that I was having some anxiety and needed to play things by ear.  He texted back that he understood and was there if I needed anything.

Then I was alone.  Just me and the tightrope.  There was no catwalk, no platform, no net, no nothing.  I was just walking along like one might on the beach…slightly awkward in the sand but ever forward as the waves wash up onto the retreating wet sand and chase cold water between your toes.  Was there a tightrope?  Was there a net?  I was just walking.

Things went back to “normal.”  I broke the cycle of thought.  …and like that, I heard my song lyric drift off into the wind as if some Nantucket sea-breeze had lifted my radio on a kite out past the breakers…

Sing Ta na na,
Ta na na na.
She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes.
She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes.
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes.
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes…

hands-in-the-shape-of-a-brainI don’t know what later tonight will be like but usually once I break my cyclical thinking, it is broken for the day.  I don’t know what tomorrow or the next day will be like but I do know this…I can handle my anxiety when I put my mind to it.  The tightrope image worked today…maybe I’ll need something else tomorrow?  Maybe I won’t need anything?  Who knows.  All I know is the future is anxiety, the past is depression, and right now is where I am.  Funny thing…time.  It gets weird in physics and doesn’t necessarily behave the way we want it to.  Perception of time is what those of us with anxiety grapple with.  Is it an open funnel of opportunity in the future with a set course behind us as we progress ever forward?  Is it like a clock?  How come time seems to move slower and faster depending on what we are doing?  Is there such thing as the present?  As you read this…this sentence is already in the past.  Does it matter?  All I know is when I dwell on the past I get sad.  When I focus too heavily on the future I get anxious.  However, when I exist in the world around me in that exact moment I am good.  I can walk the tightrope…eventually without the net.  If I fall, I’ll get up and try again tomorrow.  I have people who care about me that will help me along the way.  Strangers will help me along the way.  I am in good hands, wouldn’t you help a stranger if you saw them in need?  People are inherently good.  Life is inherently good…and that is hard to realize when you feel broken and wish everything would stop.

Just breathe.  Discomfort, not disaster.  Just breathe.


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Chapters Of My Life

1 Sep

Ryan W. Gates DudegrassI just realized…I’m in a chapter of my life.  I know that sounds stupid, or maybe I just think it sounds stupid, but it is true…I think I just woke up from a fog and realized where I am.  Of course we are all in chapters of our lives, but some chapters are more fun to read than others.  Some chapters are character development.  Some chapters are full of adventure!  Some chapters are boring.  Some chapters are just bridges to other chapters.  Some chapters are sad.  Some chapters don’t make much sense…but they are all in the damn book.

Don’t ask what set this train of thought in motion because I’m not entirely sure and I don’t know if it really matters.  What I do know is, the chapters of my past have been extremes.  I’ve lived in 7 cities in my lifetime and have worked as a busboy, a model, an actor, a film producer, a TV writer, a social media strategist, a restaurateur, a consultant, a marketer, and more.  I’ve been engaged twice and married once.  I have two small children who won’t leave me alone and I have lived alone without electricity and wondered what it would be like to not be alone.  I’ve shouted from mountaintops, gone scuba diving in the Caribbean, ridden elephants in Thailand, skied The Plunge in Telluride, seen icebergs in Newfoundland, played golf in Ireland, eaten tafelspitz in Budapest, raced streetcars in Puerto Rico, climbed a glacier, totaled a car, flipped a motorcycle, spent the night in jail, made friends, lost friends, laughed so hard I cried, and cried so hard I laughed.  My life has been pretty rapid-fire!

Now I wear khakis.

So what?  So I used to wear shorts and tennis shoes.  So I used to wake up when I wanted to.  So things used to be different.  So Long Freedom?  So long old chapters in my life.  I don’t know what the next chapter of my life will be but I know this, there will be another chapter.  How do I know?  Because every chapter prior to now has ended…and this one will end too.  Maybe adventure lies ahead!  Maybe more khakis but with a higher waistline and ergonomic underwear?  Who knows?  However, when I was in all those adventurous chapters I didn’t know I was in a chapter of my life…I was just living.  Sometimes I think this chapter of my life sucks.  Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am and love this chapter of my life.  All I know is I’ll look back someday and recognize this time period as a chapter…and I sense things are transitioning.

Maybe its the sleep.  I finally slept well for the first time in 3 years.  I’ve been sleeping well for 4 nights in a row now.  More to come on that soon.  Maybe its nothing.  Maybe its everything.  This may be one of the odder posts I’ve written in a while.  Yeah, what are we talking about?  When I used to write comedy for TV I always said the best way to end a non sequitur was to cut it off oddly and leave the audience confused as to what just happened.


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The Secret To My Marriage

26 Aug

377_44793293834_3508_nI honestly believe my relationship with my wife is special.  Not the kind of special people think of when they say, “You guys are such a fun couple.”  Not the kind of special where we’re a “Match Made in Heaven.”  Not the kind of special that can be defined through grand gestures on anniversaries and times of accomplishment.  I honestly believe my relationship with my wife is special, stronger, and healthier because of the small gestures on a daily basis which are born from how we see each other.  We don’t just have that indescribable thing that makes us click…we have open dialogue and mutual understanding of each other.  I have been thinking about this because recently I have been asked by a number of people how my marriage is holding up due to my new responsibilities at work.  I spend 10-12 hours a day at the office for about a 60 hour work week.  In my spare time I am an owner and Managing Partner of a 288 capacity restaurant and entertainment venue.  In my spare time I am also the co-founder of a non-profit arts organization which requires weekly duties to manage, promote, and provide upkeep.  I recently resigned from a board of directors to open up my schedule so I could spend more time with my family.  I still sit on the board for a health clinic that provides services to the public regardless of their ability to pay and I sit on a community board for my city’s downtown development.  I am a very active guy…and my wife is no slouch.  Aside from being a full-time mom she teaches 3 days a week at the college level, is the CEO and co-founder of our national arts organization which requires her attention on a daily basis 7 days a week, is the president of the board for one of the local museums, is a full-time painter who has just been selected into another publication, and is an organizer on so many committees for our community I can’t keep track.  We are a busy couple!

So…how is the relationship doing?

Fine.  I won’t sit here and lie, saying “it’s never been better.”  That’s not true, entirely.  Marriage was much easier when we were in our 20’s, had no kids, worked from home, and were still in the “honeymoon phase.”  I had more hair and less belly, we argued over things like where to go out to eat, and at night we cuddled up and laughed about how good our lives were.  Now?  Most of the time we spend together is putting the kids to sleep, working on our arts organization late at night, relaxing watching TV, or sleeping next to each other which I call “farting next to Kate with my eyes closed.”  Marriage is harder now.  Marriage can be work, and that’s okay.

Look, we all know that wedding vow:  “For better or for worse.”  We’ve heard it, we’ve said it, but have we really thought about what “for worse” means?  When Kate wanted to move to California for Grad School we gave up our lives in New York, left our jobs behind, and found a way to make it work financially…that’s an easy “worse” to do.  I got really sick after our wedding and we missed our honeymoon due to a surgery I needed, but that kind of “worse” is easy to get through and survive because it has a palpable end.  My panic attack 3 years ago and going through counseling to get through agoraphobia and rejoin the world was much tougher “worse” to get through, but we did…in fact it brought us closer together.  Those are the big “worse” type things that happen to people.  Shit happens.  Life happens.  “Would you still love me if both my arms fell off and I could only talk like a duck?”  Yes…yes I’d still love you.

The real “worse” that challenges a relationship is when someone annoys you.  I’m annoying…Kate puts up with it.  She’s annoying…I’m not as good at putting up with it but that’s because I’m really annoying.  Here’s what brought me to this post:  I fill out a ton of paperwork for medical things, financials, contracts, etc.  Every form there is a section for my “spouse” or “emergency contact.”  That is always Kate.  Every time there is another field that asks me what her relation to me is and I always write the same thing:  “Wife/Best Friend.”  That sums it up right there.  She is not just my wife, she is my best friend.  Think about your best friend.  Have you ever gone a long period without talking?  Have you fought about stupid stuff?  Have you had adventures so silly you cry laughing telling stories.  Do they know your secrets?  Do you know theirs?  That’s a best friend.  That should be your spouse.

Some days I love Kate so much my cheeks hurt from smiling.  Some days I imagine what life would be like if she fell off a bridge.  Some days we hold hands.  Some days we don’t.  Some days we talk for hours.  Some days we just say a cordial “hi” and “bye.”  Some days she feels like my soulmate.  Some days she feels like my roommate.  Some days I can’t wait to crawl into bed and tell her all about my day and hear about hers.  Some days I can’t wait to crawl into bed and just turn off the light.  Everyday I love her and know she loves me too…but I’m aware that love is different from affection, and I respect the ebb and flow of emotions it requires to be in a long-term monogamous relationship with a person.  It requires a foundation of trust and honesty.  It requires the ability to go with the punches and evolve.  It requires the ability to look forward, not back.  It requires a friend…a best friend.

My marriage is not perfect, but I don’t believe in perfection.  My marriage is special.  I’m married to a special person.  She gets me.  I get her.  Sometimes we loathe each other.  Most times we love each other.  She is my wife, my best friend, my co-parent, my partner in business; life; adventure; and hardship.  Sometimes she is everything to me.  Sometimes she is part of everything.  I’ve watched so many marriages break up over the past decade for so many reasons, but primarily its been from lack of best friendship.  Guess how many of my gay friends’ marriages I’ve seen break up?  Zero.  I think it’s because their courtships were built on friendship and mutual respect without a legal option to marry…yet straight folks still insist on revoking their rights when they seem to be the most fit to be married and stay in a healthy relationship for life.  That’s a different conversation for a different time.  However, sometimes I literally have to picture Kate like my male friends and take the attraction out of it…and ask myself what my best friend needs…or what I need from my best friend…and is it realistic?

So to answer everyone’s question about how my marriage is doing now that I’m so busy, it is moving forward and evolving as it always does.  We renew our wedding vows every year, because life throws some curveballs at you and you gotta adapt and keep on truckin.  I respect Kate.  I appreciate her as an individual, as well as my partner, as well as a member of a family unit, and as well as a member of society.  I hold her to the same standards I hold myself to, and expect that she do the same for me.  Quite simply, I love her.  I love her more than anyone will ever know.  She is the only one who comes close to understanding how much I love her.  I also like her.  I like her a lot.  She also drives me batshit…so I leave the toilet seat up every now and then and don’t replace the soap bar in the shower.

Kate is my best friend.  She is also my wife.  That’s the secret to my marriage, and my marriage is special.


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